Will Pharoah Rule in Arkansas?

Profile Picture: Derek Simon

Derek Simon

April 10th, 2015

Look at most Kentucky Derby contender lists and you’re sure to see the name of American Pharoah.

Richard Rosenblatt of the AP has last year’s juvenile champion ranked third (right behind Dortmund and Carpe Diem), while Bloodhorse’s Steve Haskin and ESPN’s Gary West believe that the Bob Baffert trainee is numero uno.

I think American Pharoah is a sham — and I’m not referring to the great racehorse that finished second to Secretariat in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.

I simply can’t embrace a colt that, up until now, has been an unbridled frontrunner — with very little early speed. In fact, at this point, American Pharoah reminds me a lot of Sidney’s Candy, a horse I tossed like a salad in the 2010 Kentucky Derby.

Granted, American Pharoah is proven over dirt, whereas “Candy” was not, but the pace figures are eerily similar. Sidney’s Candy’s fastest (lowest) early speed ration (ESR) in a route race prior to the Run for the Roses was a +1; American Pharoah earned a -3 ESR in the Frontrunner at Santa Anita, a track known for producing swift early splits ever since the Pro-Ride surface was replaced with dirt in the fall of 2010.

Then, there’s this gem: Since 2000, only one horse that entered the Kentucky Derby with the maximum of eight Quirin speed points in tow has gone on to wear the roses. That was Big Brown, who towered over the competition in 2008.


Number: 38
Winners: 1
Win Rate: 2.6%
$2 Net Return: $0.18
ROI: -91.1%
IV: 0.50

At present, American Pharoah has eight Quirin speed points, as does Mr. Z, the speedy colt that the son of Pioneerof the Nile will have to wrest the lead from, or rate behind, in the Arkansas Derby — and that’s why I think Saturday’s Grade I contest is far from the walkover that most racing fans are expecting.

Remember War Pass? He was a juvenile champion too. In fact, he was undefeated and had shown a great deal of early speed, including a -14 ESR in the Breeders’ Cup juvenile, before he made his second start as a sophomore in the Tampa Bay Derby.

Sent off at 1-9 against six ho-hum rivals, War Pass failed to grab the early advantage and was hung wide into the first turn in that Grade III event. He finished last, beaten by 23 ¼ lengths, and was retired shortly thereafter.

War Pass and American Pharoah share another common trait. Both possess a Dosage Index in excess of 4.00. Yeah, I know: In recent years, the once-accepted belief that a horse needed a DI of 4.00 or less to win the Kentucky Derby has fallen by the wayside, as Real Quiet (5.33), Charismatic (5.22), Giacomo (4.33) and Mine That Bird (5.40) have all worn the roses despite dubious distance breeding. But notice that none of those horses was a confirmed frontrunner like War Pass or American Pharoah.

So what does all this mean? Well, to me, it means that taking a short price on American Pharoah in Kentucky — or even Arkansas — is foolhardy. Furthermore, although I would hardly question the acumen of Bob Baffert, who is among the best trainers in the game (especially at this time of year), I think it would make a lot of sense to see if his stable star can rate this Saturday (à la Super Saver) rather than waiting to find out on the first Saturday in May.

And, to my fellow bettors, I say this: Watch the place and show wagering. If American Pharoah controls more than 75 percent of either pool, I’d be betting with both fists against him, while channeling the spirit of War Pass.